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Art HERstory: Elisabetta Sirani


Self-Portrait of Elisabetta Sirani

Self-Portrait of Elisabetta Sirani

Time waits for no man. We’ve all heard it a million times in life. Some heard it from their parents when it came to completing college applications. Others heard it from teachers or professors when it came to studying and major assignments. My most vivid memory is from House Party 2 when Kid has a not so pleasant meeting with Dean Kramer. No matter when, where, or how you heard this timeless proverb the message rings loud and clear. Get off you ass and get something done! Seizing the day was something Elisabetta Sirani knew all too well. She made the most of the brief time she was allotted and got a hell of a lot accomplished.
"Portia Wounding Her Thigh" (1664). Oh the irony! Coincidently, this picture is of Portia Catonis. Portia was the second wife to dagger wielding Brutus, one of Julius Caesar's assassins.

"Portia Wounding Her Thigh" (1664). Oh the irony! Coincidently, this picture is of Portia Catonis. Portia was the second wife to dagger wielding Brutus, one of Julius Caesar's assassins.

Elisabetta Sirani was a born and bred Italian girl, dark locks and all. She was born in Bologna, Italy in 1638. Her father, Giovanni Andrea Sirani, was a Baroque painter of the School of Bologna. Upon reaching childhood Elisabetta began her training as a painter with her father. The girl had talent. She was encouraged to pursue art seriously by Count Carlo Cesare Malvasia, a family friend and prominent art critic. Luckily for Elisabetta, Bologna was the hub of progressive attitudes towards women’s rights. The city was known for breeding successful female artists.

“Amorino mediceo trionfante” (1664). Cupid never looked this hot! This painting is pretty much Cupid taking the place of his mother in her major painting debut. "The Birth of Venus" by Sandro Botticelli ring a bell?

“Amorino mediceo trionfante” (1664). Cupid never looked this hot! This painting is pretty much Cupid taking the place of his mother in her major painting debut. "The Birth of Venus" by Sandro Botticelli ring a bell?

Baroque art is characterized by its great drama, deep colors, and the expert use of intense light and swallowing shadows. Elisabetta definitely fit the mold. Her paintings utilized the contrasts of light and dark, as well as great movement.

"Judits and the Head of Holofernes."  The ultimate tale of temptation. Judith lured the powerful man in, and decapitated him in his sleep. BURN!

"Judits and the Head of Holofernes." The ultimate tale of temptation. Judith lured the powerful man in, and decapitated him in his sleep. BURN!

Elisabetta was a force to be reckoned with when it came to creating. She was an amazing painting who could construct complex paintings in a flash. She was The Zorro of the Paintbrush to say the least. Her efficiency when it came to painting is what drew people to her. She painted the majority of her larger and heavy-themed works publicly in her studio. Yes, crowds of people actually travelled to her studio to watch her work. That’s quite the indicator of how great she must’ve been.

"Herodias with the Head of John the Baptist." Another poweful man left bodiless in the hands of a woman. Girl power!

"Herodias with the Head of John the Baptist." Another poweful man left bodiless in the hands of a woman. Girl power!

By the age of 17, Elisabetta was a full-fledged engraver and painter with at least 90 works completed. Her fans spanned the globe and overlapped social classes. Some of her works even made it to the walls of the wealthy, noble, and even royal citizens of Italy. The Grand Duke Cosimo III de Medici has an Elisabetta Sirani original on his wall.

"Sibilla." This painitng is a great example of the Baroque style. The colors are bold and the use of shadows in light is spectacular.

"Sibilla." This painitng is a great example of the Baroque style. The colors are bold and the use of shadows in light is spectacular.

At the age of 19, Elisabetta was an independent painter and the operator of the family’s workshop. She was forced to take over the business when her father was diagnosed with gout. With the primary breadwinner of the household ill, the burden of supporting the family fell on Elisabetta’s shoulders. The stress of responsibility is assumed to be the cause of her early death.

"Melpomène, the Muse of the Tragedy." This painting is of Melpomène. She was once the Greek goddess known as the Muse of Singing. Now, she is known as the Muse of Tragedy.

"Melpomène, the Muse of the Tragedy." This painting is of Melpomène. She was once the Greek goddess known as the Muse of Singing. Now, she is known as the Muse of Tragedy.

Elisabetta died suddenly after complaining of severe stomach pain. Initially the family accused the maid of poisoning Elisabetta. The servant went to trial, but was aquitted of the charges stacked against her. An autopsy later revealed numerous lacerations in Elisabetta’s stomach. The stress had caused stomach ulcers.

"La  Liberalità." The title of this piece translates into "Liberality." This explains the female depicted seeming to disperse wealth via throwing jewels and coins.

"La Liberalità." The title of this piece translates into "Liberality." This explains the female depicted seeming to disperse wealth via throwing jewels and coins.

Elisabetta Sirani only lived to be 27 years old. Between the ages of 19 and 27, Elisabetta created at least 80 works bringing her life total to around 200. She left behind quite a legacy as well. Her younger sisters carried on her dream and her works are known worldwide.

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